Students in the American Fork High School Marching Band swept the awards not long ago in a competition at Brigham Young University. What made this story interesting and somewhat controversial is this: on the way back from another competition held in Idaho, the driver of the bus in which the students were riding fell asleep at the wheel. All of the students survived. The one fatality was the 33 year old instructor who grabbed for the steering wheel when she noticed the driver was out cold.
The controversial part occurred because some people believe that it is unseemly for life to go on, for joy to be in people’s hearts, or for friends and relatives to be happy and involved in their lives when someone dies. Some people believe that it is disrespectful, cavalier and insensitive for others to carry on as though a tragedy didn’t happen. Generally, this belief comes out of a confusion of pain, emotions and guilt over survival.
I think it’s a good thing that these students competed, and they did so in remembrance of Heather Christensen, the teacher who saved their lives. And that’s the point: she saved their lives so they could live, love, and play music. I believe they showed her immense respect by playing in her honor, continuing with the competition for which she coached them. Her immortality comes from being remembered fondly by her students who used the skills they learned from her to create the music she loved so much.
When someone we love dies, we don’t honor them by denying ourselves the normal pleasures of life. I find that to be an insult. Life is precious, and when somebody is gone from life, that which they lost should be treated with the utmost reverence by squeezing every moment of dignity, creativity, joy, adventure, work, love, compassion and fun that is possible. This is the way you honor the deceased: you carry on and do something of value with your life.
The students received a long, standing ovation as they marched off the field and embraced in tearful hugs. What a fitting memorial to a brave, caring teacher.